Monday, August 28, 2006

Week Three in the CAPSoff Campaign

I started the CAPSoff campaign with nothing more than a blog, a Google group, a story, and half an hour to waste. In two weeks we hit every major geek news site, then the blogs, then the radio stations and the printed media. As the story spread, people looked at their keyboards and thought, "yes, time for a change!"

And the ideas kept pouring in. Two enter keys, like pinball flippers. A Control key. A second backspace. A mute button. A boss key. A key to eject the CD-ROM drive. The infamous missing 'Any' key.

And people pointed out other problems. The Ins key. All the other legacy keys. The cry "what is this key actually for?" went around the world as people looked at their SysRq, PrtSc, NumLock, Scoll Lock, Ins keys with a new scepticism.

And people said, "actually, when you think about it, the whole keyboard is ripe for change".

It's not just the English qwerty keyboard. The world's keyboards are bizarre hybrids, stuffing accented characters into odd places and filling valuable spaces with characters no-one ever uses. Tiny countries like Luxembourg and Belgium use three totally different layouts, even though many people have to use the same layout to work in multiple languages. IBM have a nice site that shows the national and regional layouts we use around the world.

Some people like their regional keyboards, it makes them feel special. "Well, we didn't get a seat at the UN Security Council", they can tell their chief minister, "but at least we got our own keyboard". But do we really need fourty-four different keyboard layouts in Europe, for instance? None of these keyboards are really that great. They are all based on a design that IBM admits "was selected to slow down typists in the days of mechanical typewriters."

Now, keyboards are defined by the ISO9995 standard, an international standard that covers most conventional keyboard layouts across the world. The Caps Lock position is part of the ISO9995 standard. The computer industry blindly implements standards, good or bad. So to kill Caps Lock, we need to make a new keyboard standard.

Changing an international standard is impossible for ordinary people like you and me. You don't like the Caps Lock key? Don't like the way Del (often used) and Ins (another 'do not touch' key) are right next to each other? Don't like that correcting a mistake is slower than it should be? Find that your wrists hurt when you type too much? Well, tough cookies, you're just a consumer, and all you're allowed to do is spend your money. Here, try yet one more expensive ergonomic keyboard that blindly follows the outdated ISO9995 standard!

Well, we're not just consumers, if we work together. Individually, we can't do more than complain, rip that key out, or buy a non-standard alternative. Collectively, we can move mountains, and we can certainly change the keyboard standard. It's just a matter of pressure, noise, and publicity.

The CAPSoff campaign has already changed the world, as millions of people have opened their eyes and said, "yes, yes, I always knew it was broken!" I said, we'd change the world, one key at a time.

Well, now it's time for the next shake-up. So, in the next days I'll be launching the next phase in the war on Caps Lock: the Million Dollar Keyboard. Stay tuned, and stop shouting!


Blogger chris said...

Count on me!!

3:05 PM  
Blogger ChefNick said...

How about a pressure-sensitive keyboard, just like a piano? If you hit "x" key, say twice as hard, it would turn into a cap. You might theoretically be able to adjust the pressure needed to do this, as everyone's typing style is different, but then there wouldn't need to be a special key. After all, when does anyone need to type in all caps?

Alternatively, you could have an unobtrusive, wireless foot pad you could depress every time you wanted a cap.


2:07 AM  
Blogger sboots said...

I second the pressure-sensitive idea - I think it would be easier to get used to than most people would expect.

This campaign seems to be about getting rid of keys, but if I could humbly suggest adding one:
"Shift-tab", as one key (works like the tab key, switches to next available input field, but in the opposite direction of "normal" tab.) I love keyboard shortcuts (down with mouses), and it's hard to quickly switch back and forth between pushing "tab" and turning your entire hand sideways for "shift-tab". Maybe you could split the tab key into two side-by-side buttons, "<-tab" and "tab->"

Which would of course be confused with arrow keys. ;-)

9:51 PM  
Blogger Pieter Hintjens said...

I like the idea of adding new keys for very common functions like shift-tab that are now tricky to use.

4:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm Sorry to be rude, by you people are just idiots you don't think of anything but what you do you want to know what keys do:

Caps Lock: Obviosly useful if you want to enter something like a Post Code, which is all in upper-case, but has number, which don't appear if you hold shift while pressing them.

Shift: Useful for Cappitallising the first letter of each word.

Ins: Short for Insert: used in Word Proccessor Like MS Word and Writer, by defualt they are in insert mode, but if you press this what you type overwriter what's already there, this can be usefull sometimes.

Print Screen: For taking Screenshots: Copys a copy of the screen to clipboard in windows and with KDE on Linux open KScreenShot.

Tab: Allows you to switch between input feilds on web pages and many programs, which is a time saver, and in Word Proccessors it inserts a big gap.

Control(Ctrl) and Alternative(Alt): Very useful for creating shortcuts in programs like Ctrl+C is usually copy (or cancel command in a linux console).

Del: Useful for deleting text before the blinking cursor and when pressed in combination with Ctrl and Alt it opens one of the most used programs on Windows.

Scroll Lock: Useful for using the number keypad as a second set of aroow keys.

Num Lock: Turn the Number Pad between number and other funcutins.

The Number Pad: Usefull for entering big amounts of numbers.

Home and End: Move the blinking cursor to the begging and end of the line, useful to correct a mistake at the begging of something without deleting it or have to wait for the blinking cursor to move back the with the left aroow key.

Page Up and Down: Obvious

Also in some programs like say a game where a key like Caps Lock is no use it can be used as something else.

I think if you think properly you'll see that the way the keyboard is laid out it has been very well thourght over, everwise why would it have been the industry standrard from the early tiypewriters till now? just think how many people use computers in so many different ways. You know there are special keyboard made by companys like Logitech and MS, etc. That have the normal keys plus extra ones that are useful when browsing the internet.

5:08 AM  
Blogger ChefNick said...

I see you have difficulties using your keyboard just the way it is.

1:09 PM  
Blogger Attila the Falcon said...

Good cause!
As a Hebrew keyboard user I think the keyboard layout should have been changed years a go
When you press the Caps Lock while in Hebrew mode you are suddenly shouting in English
Something should be done

Attila the Falcon in support of the CAPSoff campaign

11:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a professional programmer, using my computers and keyboard 8+ hours a day. I've used the CAPS LOCK key less than three times over the last few years. Do away with it, for all I care, but leave one (or two) programmable keys there.

The INS key can go too, for all I care, but when I recently switched to a Logitech MX3000 KB, they had already done that. The current, non-standard, arrangement of the home/end/pgup/pgdown/delete cluster is a frequent source of finger-confusion.

That said, I don't think there's any real value in removing the CAPS LOCK, other than making the abuse of that function more difficult. For desktop applications, real-estate isn't so limited as to need the space freed by that key, and even on laptops, there's a lot of room to be found in the days of widescreen displays.

But c'mon folks, pressure-sensitive? As always, the simplest solutions are the easiest. Disable or replace the key. Still need caps? Turn on sticky-keys. Set it up for enabling CAPS LOCK on "double-clicking" either shift key.

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